The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a team as a number of persons associated together in work or activity. Teams are formed for many purposes. Examples include project teams, ad-hoc teams, quality improvement teams, and task forces. Sometimes the team is formed to work on a goal as an adjunct to a traditional hierarchy in an organization. At other times, the team is designed to replace the hierarchy.
Several roles help to keep a team operating smoothly.
- Moves the team to accomplish its task
- Provides a conducive environment for getting the work done (location, resources)
- Communicates with the team
- Makes things happen with ease
- Helps the group with the process
- Enables the group to produce the “how” decisions
- Writes down the team’s key points, ideas and decisions
- Documents the team’s process, discussions, and decisions
- Monitors how long the team is taking to accomplish its tasks
- Provides regular updates to the team on how well or poorly they are using their time
- Collaborates with the team leader, facilitator and others to determine new time schedules if the agenda has to be adjusted
- Displays enthusiasm and commitment to the team’s purpose
- Behaves honestly; maintain confidential information behind closed doors
- Shares responsibility to rotate through other team roles
- Shares knowledge and expertise and not withhold information
- Asks questions
- Respects the opinions and positions of others on the team, even if the person has an opposing view or a different opinion
The Traditional Team
There are several characteristics common to traditional teams.
- A team gains a shared understanding and purpose among team members, as distinguished from a group.
- Teams require mutually agreed-upon operating principles such as agendas, procedures, and decision-making processes.
- A team is interdependent; everyone works for the good of the team, not for oneself.
- Effective teams distinguish task from process. How they do things (the process) is just as important, if not more important, than what they do (the task).
A self-directed team is a team that is responsible for a whole product or process. The team plans the work and performs it, managing many of the tasks supervision or management might have done in the past. A facilitator (selected by the team or an outside individual) helps the group get started and stay on track. The facilitator’s role decreases as the team increases its ability to work together effectively.
An e-team is a group of individuals who work across space and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. Members have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals, and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.
Geographically dispersed teams allow organizations to hire and retain the best people regardless of location. An e-team does not always imply telecommuters, individuals who work from home. Many virtual teams in today’s organizations consist of employees, both working at home and in small groups in the office, but in different geographic locations.
The benefits of an e-team approach are:
- Workers can be located anywhere in the world
- Virtual environments can give shy participants a new voice
- Members have less commuting and travel time, so they tend to be more productive
- Companies gain an increasingly horizontal organizational structure, characterized by structurally, and geographically distributed human resources.
There are a few caveats when using e-teams. They frequently operate from multiple time zones, so it is important to make sure that there is some overlapping work time. In addition, unless a camera is used for meetings, working virtually means that there is no face to face body language to enhance communications. Therefore, intra-team communications must be more formal than with a team whose members meet physically. Care also needs to be taken to make sure no one is left out of the communications loop just because he or she is not visible. E-teams demand a high trust culture.